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November 7, 2014

Book Notes - Leesa Cross-Smith "Every Kiss a War"

Every Kiss a War

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Leesa Cross-Smith's short story collection Every Kiss a War is poignant and brilliantly observed.

Roxane Gay wrote of the book:

"Leesa Cross-Smith is a consummate storyteller who uses her formidable talents to tell the oft-overlooked stories ... creating crisp, evocative moments that will linger long after you've read this book's very last word."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In her own words, here is Leesa Cross-Smith's Book Notes music playlist for her short story collection Every Kiss a War:


"We Found Love" by Rihanna

The high school girls in the lead-off story "Skee Ball, Indiana" are listening to this on their way to a skee ball tournament. It's a sparkly, glittery song that lifts the darkening night. And it's an excellent lead-off song for my entire collection. Finding love in a hopeless place.

"Wild Heart" by Stevie Nicks

My character, Violet, has a wild, wild heart. She just does whatever she wants. I've written three stories about her in this collection. She's also a singer. So when she runs off from her husband and kisses another man, I can see her singing this to herself on the way home. Her hymn.

"Hold On, Hold On" by Neko Case

The second Violet story is called "Hold On, Hold On" because of this song. Neko's songs hold such mystery. She's a lovely storyteller. At a very important point in the story, Violet fantasizes about saying the words "hold on, hold on" aloud. And Neko has such beautiful, minor-key songs with endings that just kinda show up unexpectedly and tremble there like ribbons in the wind. That's what I was trying to do with that story.

"Ride" by Lana Del Rey
There's a third Violet story and my novel-in-progress is about her, too. This Lana Del Rey song is one of Violet's heartsongs.

"Flower" by Liz Phair
Phair's album Exile in Guyville is basically a life instruction manual for the girl in my story "Back When Exile in Guyville Was The Only Album I Listened To." She bases her decisions on WWLPD (What Would Liz Phair Do?) This song is bawdy and crazy and beautiful and strange.

"Chained and Bound" by Otis Redding

This is the song the characters from my story "Whiskey & Ribbons" dance to in the kitchen. My character Dalton is chained and bound to his best friend's widow, Evangeline. He's never said these words aloud to her but this song is playing and the snow is falling and falling outside and Otis is singing the words in Dalton's heart.

"Touch the Hem of His Garment" by Basia Bulat

I chose the Basia Bulat version of this because in my story "Hem"...it's the female character, Merit, who mentions the Bible story from the gospels to the other character. She's trying to lift his spirits, reminding him that sometimes a tiny thing can be a not-so-tiny thing. I love Jesus and I love hymns.

"Ladies Love Outlaws" by Waylon Jennings
There is a story in my collection called "Ladies Love Outlaws." I've always loved that. And it's true. And so is this: outlaws touch the ladies somewhere deep down in their soul.

"Heart to the Husk" by Jeffrey Foucault
When he sings please tell me something I wanna know...where does love go? It sounds like everything I've ever written/everything I will ever write. Every story, forever.

"You Remind Me of Something (The Glory Goes)" by Bonnie Prince Billy

In my story "Kitchen Music"... as they're in the process of breaking up, my character is thinking about the happy times she's had with her boyfriend. When they would crank the radio up and open the kitchen windows on Sunday afternoons. In this song he sings and dancing goes on in the kitchen until dawn to my favorite song that has no end.

"Scarlet Begonias" by Grateful Dead

There is a story called "Kentucky Sugar" and in it, my character is sleeping with the woman who owns the landscaping company he works for. She's a hippie; her front porch smells like Nag Champa. In the original version of the story...which has now been whittled down...they drove around in the early morning...going out for coffee and muffins and she would always be listening to Grateful Dead. This song reminds me of spring and romantic things. Everything I wanted the story to be until it turns into a rough-and-tumble fistfight sorta thing. For the rest of his life, anytime my character hears this song, he thinks about this girl.

"Un Jour Comme Un Autre" by Bridgette Bardot

I've written a story about an American man named Sam who's fallen in love with a French woman. They have a daughter. One morning they are having figs and coffee and hot chocolate in their small Parisian kitchen and the warm wind is blowing the yellow curtains up and out. This French woman, his wife, Margot...she plays this song for him because she knows he will love the trumpet and she's right. This is the morning before he confronts her about the affair he knows she's having. That trumpet is so sexy and sad.

"Sinnerman" by Nina Simone
This is the second Sam story in my collection. Years later. He's kinda spilling out at the edges, not making the best decisions. He listens to a lot of Nina Simone. In this song, sometimes Nina doesn't even sing, she just makes these gorgeous, soul-deep begging sounds. These are the sounds the Holy Spirit makes for Sam when Sam doesn't know what prayer to pray. The story is written from another person's point of view, but it's Sam's story. He's the sinnerman. We all are.

"Ode to Sad Clown" by Joe Purdy

Joe sings it's not that I'm not sorry, Lord. It's just that I'm not strong. Cuz when that woman looks at me I can't remember right from wrong. This is the song for the last story in my collection called "Wayfaring." The man is leaving town but a couple of nights before he leaves, he reconnects with a woman from his past. The guy in my story is called West although I never mention his name...he's a character from another story in my collection. He's a jerk. He wants to do better. Later. He's removing himself from Kentucky, heading towards New Mexico, like maybe that'll help. And maybe it does. Maybe it doesn't, either. Joe is singing to himself in this song and in "Wayfaring"...I've written it in second person because West is basically talking to himself. He's sad. This song is sad. He's working on it. He's not giving up.

Bonus Tracks:

"Chain" by Ingrid Michaelson

Because it is Evangeline's song from "Whiskey & Ribbons." And if you come around again, then I will take the chain from off the door. So pretty it almost hurts to listen.

"XO" by Beyonce
Because this song sounds like the bright sticky-sweetness of all of the best parts of a relationship. I love you like ex oh. You love me like ex oh. You kill me boy, ex oh.

"Beautiful War" by Kings of Leon
Love don't mean nothing unless there's something worth fighting for. It's a beautiful war. Some lyrics/a song for the collection in its entirety.

"Heart of Gold" by Neil Young
I mention Neil Young a couple of times in this collection because I love Neil Young. His songs remind me of how I want my stories to feel. And on the same level as the first song in this soundtrack...Neil singing "I've been a miner for a heart of gold" kinda lifts everything. He's trying. We're all trying. Every Kiss a War. Sure every kiss is a war, but we're still kissing...we're warring, we're loving, we're screwing everything up, we're fixing things. We're trying. There are cracks, there is light. We get our knees dirty, we scavenge.


Leesa Cross-Smith and Every Kiss a War links:

the author's website
video trailer for the book
excerpt from the book ("Whiskey & Ribbons")

Buffalo Almanack review
Chicago Literati review
Heavy Feather Review review
Necessary Fiction review

Anne Leigh Parrish interview with the author
Kathy Fish interview with the author
Lit Out Loud interview with the author
Mash Stories interview with the author
Mr. Bear’s Violet Hour Saloon/The Secret Lives of Stuffed Animals interview with the author
OTHERPPL interview with the author
The Tavern Lantern interview with the author
That Lit Site interview with the author
This Blog Will Change Your Life interview with the author
Welcome to Ladyville interview with the author
What Are You Reading? interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

List of Online "Best of 2014" Book Lists

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


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